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The 2014 IRB Women’s Rugby Women’s World Cup recently wrapped up, crowning England as the new world champion and Canada the runner up. Team USA, arguably tasked with the toughest pool in the tournament, finished with a record of 2-3, clinching sixth place.
USA Women’s 15s Head Coach Peter Steinberg offered us some comments about the World Cup and US domestic rugby. According to Steinberg, the format of the Women’s World Cup could use an overhaul. “There are more than two competitive teams so we need quarterfinals. That could happen with 12 teams, with the top eight squads having three extra games, and the bottom four only having two playoff games.” Steinberg noted that if the IRB were to divert from the current 12-team structure to a 16-team expansion, teams such as Japan and Hong Kong would be likely additions.
With the next Women’s World Cup set to take place in 2017, New Zealand and England are rumored to have cast their bids and Ireland also has a budding interest. Steinberg commented that the US would eventually bid for the WRWC with the realized growth of the men’s game, however, he believes that the next couple of cycles are likely to remain in Europe due to the infrastructure and close fan base. He said, “This World Cup seemed like a turning point in the women’s game. Games sold out, millions of viewers watched, and there was huge press coverage. There is no doubt that the French Rugby Federation made a lot of money from the tournament so that will make it attractive.”
How do the Eagles become more competitive in the face of the annual Six Nations Championship and professional leagues in New Zealand? Steinberg believes that we must reassess our structures, as our domestic competition is not working. “Eighty-percent of the WPL games are uncompetitive and the cost is unsustainable for the players. We need to rethink what the role of club is. England, France and the US are the only countries that have club rugby as their highest level of play.”
Despite our current ineffective structure, he is encouraged about the future of rugby with the development of varsity college programs and recruitment of higher quality athletes. He perceived that if we are able to attract and develop elite levels of players and coaches and create elite games for players, the USA raise its women’s side to a higher level.
Canada made history, playing in their first ever World Cup Final. Steinberg attributes their success to a strong generation of special players and the complimentary nature of their 7s and 15s program.
In light of Ireland and France now turning their attention to 7s, Steinberg believes that the Eagles will have a much tougher time qualifying for the Olympics. “If we qualify and compete then it will have a big impact on the way the game is viewed. However, domestically, the women’s game will always be 15s first because of the impact of college rugby elevation.
Steinberg plans to take a few weeks off and then begin assessing his experiences from the past WRWC to present at the National Development Conference next year. His contract expires at the end of 2014. His plans are to convene with USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville to discuss his next steps later this fall.